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Pronin v. Wright

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

April 6, 2017

Dmitry Pronin, Plaintiff,
v.
Charles Wright; Neal Urch; Ashley McCann, and L. Blackwell, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (PARTIAL SUMMARY DISMISSAL)

         This is a civil action filed pro se by a federal prison inmate concerning his temporary housing at the Spartanburg County Detention Center (“Spartanburg CDC”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in such pro se cases and to submit findings and recommendations to the district court. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e); 1915A (as soon as possible after docketing, district courts should review prisoner cases to determine whether they are subject to summary dismissal).

         I. Factual Background

         Dmitry Pronin (“Plaintiff”) is a federal prisoner who was temporarily housed at Spartanburg CDC between June 27, 2016 and August 22, 2016. ECF No. 2-2 at 5. Pronin was being held at Spartanburg CDC “on a civil writ.” ECF No. 2 at 5.[1] In the Complaint now under review, Plaintiff alleges that he was unconstitutionally housed in an 8 x 10 cell with three other prisoners, that he was unconstitutionally deprived of the use of a law library and certified mail services, and that he was unconstitutionally fed inadequate amounts of food. Id. He alleges that he lost weight from the allegedly inadequate food, ECF No. 2 at 8, but he does not allege any physical, emotional, or other injury from the other conditions of which he complains. Plaintiff requests damages and injunctive relief. Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of Plaintiff's pro se Complaint filed in this case. This review has been conducted pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, and in light of the following precedents: Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951 (4th Cir. 1995); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70 (4th Cir. 1983); Boyce v. Alizaduh, 595 F.2d 948 (4th Cir. 1979).

         Pro se complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), and a federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). When a federal court is evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true. De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 630 n.1 (4th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that this court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). Even under this less stringent standard, the Complaint filed in this case is subject to partial summary dismissal under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         III. Discussion

         With respect to Plaintiff's allegations about the crowded cells to which he was subjected while confined in Spartanburg County, the United States Supreme Court explained in Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), that a prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (i) the alleged deprivation must be, objectively, “sufficiently serious, ” resulting “in the denial of ‘the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, '” and (ii) the prison official must have a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind, '” i.e., “‘deliberate indifference' to inmate health or safety.” Id. at 834 (citations omitted). The Court further determined that its standard for “deliberate indifference” would be “subjective recklessness as used in the criminal law.” Id. at 839-40. “In short, the Court concluded that a prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of confinement only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.” Forbes v. Edgar, 112 F.3d 262, 266 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 847).

         Regarding the objective prong of the Farmer v. Brennan analysis, it has been held that overcrowding alone is not “sufficiently serious” to establish a constitutional violation. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 348-49 (1981) (finding that housing two inmates in a cell designed for one does not, without more, violate the Eighth Amendment). Although “prisoners do not shed all constitutional rights at the prison gate, . . . lawful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system.” Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 485 (1995) (citations omitted). The United States Supreme Court has cautioned the federal courts that they “ought to afford appropriate deference and flexibility to state officials trying to manage a volatile environment.” Id. at 482; see O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 353 (1987) (courts should not “substitute [their] judgment . . . on difficult and sensitive matters of institutional administration . . . for the determinations of those charged with the formidable task of running a prison.”).

         In this case, Plaintiff alleges no conduct on Defendants' part relative to the conditions of Plaintiff's confinement at Spartanburg CDC that approaches “deliberate indifference” because he sets forth no facts showing that he faced “a substantial risk of serious harm” from the crowded conditions of confinement of which he complains. As a result, the allegations contained in the Complaint, even liberally construed, are inadequate to state a viable § 1983 cause of action for compensatory damages arising from the conditions under which Plaintiff was confined in Spartanburg CDC. Plaintiff's requests for injunctive relief are moot because he is no longer in the housed at the Spartanburg CDC. See, e.g., Kendelman v. Rome, 569 F.3d 182, 186 (4th Cir. 2009); Incumaa v. Ozmint, 507 F.3d 281, 286-87 (4th Cir. 2007); Branch v. Angelone, No. 00-6583, 19 F. App'x 29 (4th Cir. 2001).

         While having to live in a relatively small cell with three other inmates may have been inconvenient or uncomfortable, there is no indication that the living arrangement resulted in a serious or significant injury. See Strickler, 989 F.2d at 1380-81. As Plaintiff's allegations fail to satisfy the objective component of a viable Eighth Amendment claim, there is no need to address whether Defendants' allegedly knowing refusal to put fewer inmates in each cell could satisfy the subjective component of such a claim under different circumstances. Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1297 (11th Cir. 2004).

         Additionally, Plaintiff's allegations about the lack of a law library and the limited postal services available during his three-month period of his being housed at Spartanburg CDC also fail to state a plausible § 1983 claim. This is true because there are no allegations of any specific injury Plaintiff suffered as a result of the alleged inadequate access to a library and the limited postal services available during the applicable period of time. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351-53 (1996) (plaintiff must allege actual injury resulting from allegedly inadequate jail library in order to state a claim under § 1983); Michau v. Charleston Cty., S.C., 434 F.3d 725, 728 (4th Cir. 2006) (inmate must allege and show that he has suffered an actual injury or specific harm to his litigation efforts as a result of the defendant's actions); Magee v. Waters, 810 F.2d 451, 452 (4th Cir. 1987) (actual injury required where complaint was of limited library time). Furthermore, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that the United States Constitution does not require every local jail even to have a law library. See Magee v. Waters, 810 F.2d at 452. The holding in Magee is based on the knowledge that county jails, such as the Spartanburg CDC, are generally short-term facilities, wherein "'the brevity of confinement does not permit sufficient time for prisoners to petition the courts.'" 810 F.2d at 452; see also Cruz v. Hauck, 515 F.2d 322, 331-33 (5th Cir. 1975). In Cruz, the court noted: "access to the courts may be satisfied either by availability of legal materials, by counsel, or by any other appropriate device of the State." 515 F.2d at 331 (emphasis added). Also on point are Hause v. Vaught, 993 F.2d 1079 (4th Cir. 1993); Strickler v. Waters, 989 F.2d 1375; Peterkin v. Jeffes, 855 F.2d 1021, 1040-41 & nn.24-25 (3d Cir. 1988); and Sands v. Lewis, 886 F.2d 1166, 1170-71 (9th Cir. 1989) (collecting cases). Without any arguable allegation to the effect that he personally suffered actual injury (such as dismissal of a lawsuit or entry of sanctions) from his lack of access to a law library and to full postal services at Spartanburg CDC, it is clear that Plaintiff fails to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 upon which relief may be granted.

         Finally, with regard to Plaintiff's remaining claim about the amount of food he received, there are no allegations from which it may be inferred that Defendants Wright, Urch, or McCann had any personal involvement in the food service at Spartanburg CDC or any knowledge, except, perhaps, through grievances, that the food was allegedly inadequate. As a result, no plausible food-related claim is stated against these three Defendants. To state a plausible § 1983 claim against any particular public official, a “causal connection” or “affirmative link” must exist between the conduct of which the plaintiff complains and the official sued. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985); Evans v. Chalmers, 703 F.3d 636, 654 (4th Cir. 2012). A plaintiff, such as Plaintiff in this case, suing a government official in his individual capacity and thereby seeking to hold the official personally liable must show that the official personally caused or played a role in causing the deprivation of a federal right complained of. See Graham, 473 U.S. at 166. Receipt of or response to a grievance is not sufficient personal involvement in the grieved circumstances to ...


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